The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips. When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night. I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too. Sadly, it was just my lips.
As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family. I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin. I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday. Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.
I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well. Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently. It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind: Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed?
Life is full of losses. We lose money. We lose jobs. We lose time. We lose things that are dear to us. We lose people we love. We lose. No one likes to lose either. We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win. We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains. While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn. Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it. Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.
The other day I was rushing to get somewhere when I was stopped by a red light — a very long red light. Heart-pumping, brain-whizzing, grip on the steering wheel clenching, I felt certain the world would end if the stoplight didn’t turn green that instant. I watched enviously as cars whizzed by wondering when it would be my turn, wondering if the light was broken, wondering how much longer I could possibly wait as all of humankind seemingly passed by at an unimpressive 40 miles per hour.
That’s what it feels like with God sometimes – an agonizing, monotonous wait. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Certainly, God’s timing is not my own. I have known this for some time and while I try not to begrudge it, there are moments in my prayer life where I feel the same urgency I did that day at the stoplight.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7). Stop at a red light and it will turn green. Presto. Prayer answered. I feel like that scripture should come with a bible-sized addendum outlining exceptions, exclusions, and caveats to explain the time gap between asking and receiving.
By definition, the word “no” has a negative connotation. It conveys restriction, refusal, and denial. It’s a flashing red light blinking a warning to stop. It’s a shut door. The end of a discussion. A command to pause.
I grew up in the eighties when war was declared on drugs, and the best-known weapon was the three-word slogan, “Just say no.” I heard it from Nancy Reagan. It was espoused on popular sitcoms like Punky Brewster and Diff’rent Strokes. I read it on bumper stickers and posters. Just. Say. No.
Easy peasy. No was encouraged. It was advocated. It was celebrated. Like some algebraic equation, a negative turned into a positive. But like all ad campaigns, it ran its course. There was a new decade, new millennium, new drugs, and of course, new wars. “No” is once again true to its definition. It’s for the slacker. The one who refuses to lean in. The people who have limited constructs and little ambition.
Yes has become the world’s drug of choice. We are encouraged to go all in, have it all, and do it all. All for what? At what price? This 21st-century spin is blurring priorities. Everything has become important. Everything has to be done. It’s encompassing, egocentric, and exhausting.
I remember exactly where I was when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was a profoundly sad day. It changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in anguished grief. As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to four, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror, multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.
A new commitment to patriotism rose like a phoenix out of ashes on that pivotal day. We were less naïve and more united. A surge of civilians stepped out of their air-conditioned offices and into the desert heat to join our military. They traded the comforts of civilian life for the trials of war to ensure freedom.
I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve that those newly converted soldiers felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day—the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterward, and finding a pediatrician—were suddenly inconsequential. Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full of the promise of life, and the sky was falling. Read more
I got the new Vineyard Vines catalog in the mail. One of its pages teased: 92 summer days ahead. I couldn’t help wonder if whoever wrote that sent their kids to Catholic School. I checked my own school calendar for accuracy and calculated we only have 68 days of summer. How’s that for a penance?
I don’t know why this struck me anyway. Maybe it was all the crystal blue water splashed on the pages selling pastel-colored polo shirts for $85 a pop. But, I couldn’t stop thinking of that number. It was so finite. So, use it or lose it. While summer has not officially started, I can’t help but feel a little panicked about its inevitable passing. It reminds me of how fast all of life is passing. I wonder how many whale logo purchases it would take for me to slow down and have some of those carefree moments like the people in the catalog.
I was grateful to Shep and Ian for reminding me to embrace the days ahead that sprawl out like a bath towel on the beach. Too short. While I don’t love lists because I can never find them after I make them, I made a plan for summer that would make any whale smile.
Forget about being mindful: Lord have mercy. There is so much pressure to be in the moment. I lost a great bulk of my mind during childbirth and what’s left of it doesn’t want to focus on putting a fork in the dishwasher. Most of what I do is just not that interesting and I know that would probably make Oprah sad for me. However, the season of life I am in is hurried and hectic, mundane and meaningful, and relies heavily on mercy and grace. So, I don’t have a lot left for mindfulness. Instead, let your minds wander. We use to do this as children — boredom would breed great imaginings, inventions, and undiscovered places. Let your minds drift away to a happy memory, a hope for the future, or a childhood dream. This makes putting a fork in the dishwasher so much more pleasant. Read more
I am in the “letting go” years of motherhood. I know Alzheimer’s disease is considered the long-goodbye, but having teenagers feels as much so. Except instead of forgetting precious memories, I am flooded with them: story times at the library, field trips to the zoo, class parties, countless baseball games, first dances, and ordinary moments that have aged into extraordinary memories.
It is often said of parenting that the days are long but the years are short. I would only add that the years get successively faster like a racing heart sprinting toward the finish line. The teenage years are propelled with a momentum that has little to do with parenting but is filled with our children’s pursuits. We no longer set the pace of their days. Instead, we race to keep up or merely watch their projection as they shoot off like a ball in a pinball machine: hither and yonder, to and fro, until they finally land in their beds at night. Still. Safe. Ours.
But the truth is they were never ours to keep. They were trusted to us by an ever-generous God for what suddenly feels like too little time. Somehow, he put us together knowing that we will each learn from the other. We are shown we could love more than seemed physically possible and that we can stretch beyond what we once considered strong to a surprisingly soft place of resilience. I can’t think of anything else that compares to the ways it has broken me, built me anew, and taught lessons that only love could teach.
Most of us overcomplicate things. I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag. It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this). It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.
By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned. Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice. If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit. That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up. As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.
I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose. Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question. “What am I doing with my life?” “What color is my parachute?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things. My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’” While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more
I know songs have been written about the ease of Sunday morning, but I wish someone would write one about the angst of a Sunday evening. That’s the twitchiest night of the week for me as I transition from the charms of the weekend to the schisms of the work week. I feel like the amiable comic book character, Pig Pen, created by Charles Shultz, traveling in my own dust storm with all the to-do’s swirling around me making a filthy mess of what was once a peaceful mind. The more I do, the more I realize how far behind I really am and the dirt cakes on — further muddying my panic.
I sort through emails. I make piles. I do laundry. I boss children — an echo of repetition. I try to remember what I needed to talk to my husband about. I usually can’t. I make lists. I pick up abandoned glasses and clip close half-eaten bags of chips laying carelessly on the counter. In all my busying, I only seem to find more to do. Each task leads to another – a maze in the making. I scatter about in the dusty swirl of tedium past bedtime – past reason. My son asks me to review his cover letter for an internship he is applying for and I stop. In that instant, where I was given one more thing to do– when I was already so done, I would have envisioned being buried under the muck of a mudslide. Instead, I felt the clarity of grace. I felt its calm and its cleanse, as I realized I belong in the middle of the mess. It’s there that my independent, almost adult child asked for my input. It’s there that the mess suddenly stopped choking me and I breathed into the precious moment of mothering.
Our to-do’s will never be done and life will always be messy no matter how much tidying we do. Serving others in the midst of it is the grace that makes life meaningful. It gives order to chaos. It realigns priorities and it reinvigorates efforts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).
Sometimes I feel like a tiny bird with an injured leg from an encounter with the claws of a crazed cat. I know how lucky I am to be here and how much worse things could be; yet, still, I carry a limp from my wounds that sometimes keeps me tethered to the ground. (I might start telling people that when they ask me how I am doing.)
Life is so darn messy and most of us try terribly hard to tidy what we can. In its constancy, it can feel like a marathon, and like the tiny bird, we merely hop along. One of my favorite quotes is from Saint John Paul II who said: “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” It conveys such unparallel joy – a skyward ascent of heavenly praise. It hardly makes me think of hopping.
Indeed, we are the Easter people and we are meant to rise. Lent is a time to unload the burden of sin we carry. It’s a time to shed the miscellaneous and the excess. It is a time to reconnect to God by disconnecting from our distractions. Sometimes the Lenten experience feels empowering like a strenuous workout or the purging of an overstuffed closet. Other times, it just feels hard. All the emptying, sacrificing, and sustaining from a 40-day reflection can feel too austere for a hallelujah song. No sweet little bird chirps that indicate winter’s hibernation is over. Just a hop, hop. Yet Easter is coming – not just at the end of this Lenten season. Also, at the end of our lives. In between, in the thicket of life’s doing and undoing, we rise. Amidst the momentary affliction of life’s messiness, we remain upright. “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it,” (Ezra 10:4). Even when it’s hard or feels impossible — when there is not enough money, not enough time, not enough of your poor tired soul to go around — be strong and rise. Read more
I have a secret file that I keep on my computer. I know that makes me sound a bit like a CIA operative working on top secret missions. (I cannot confirm or deny this). Admittedly, I have a pretty good cover. A married mother of two who writes about Jesus, hangs out with cats, and moonlights for the government while wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt. You can’t make this stuff up. Or, can you?
Anyway, back to reality. I have this file that I keep on my computer labeled “encouragement.” I know you thought it was going to say “delusions of a Christian writer,” but it doesn’t. It simply reads encouragement. If you were to open it, you would find emails I saved from people who took the time to tell me how my writing touched them. I am not sure what compelled me to start it. (Maybe because I was consumed with self-doubt, terrified that the vulnerabilities I shared would humiliate myself and my family, and perhaps, worse of all, that I was leaving a paper trail of evidence supporting an extended stay in a mental health facility. You know, just your small, everyday concerns). When I would get an email of appreciation or encouragement, it made me feel less alone, braver, and best of all, that I was making a difference. I cherish them. Each kindness feels like a gift from God, encouragement made holy through the sacred gift of love in which it was made. Deleting them felt akin to throwing a fresh bouquet of flowers in the trash. I couldn’t do it. So, I started my secret file, a hoarder of happy words. Read more